Thursday, November 15, 2007

About Paragraphs

"I didn't understand that 'in paragraphs' comment. When I brainstorm things go into paragraphs."

I have no beef with paragraphs. I think they're great. I usually write in paragraph form. Paragraphs, in and of themselves, don't bother me.

The reason I commented on them was their context. The fact that, in a class of fourteen, only two people wrote their brainstorming in a format other than paragraphs, is weird. One thing I know about writing is that everybody has a writing process, not unlike a belly button, which is their own and doesn't exactly match anyone else's.

Whit writes down brainstorming in paragraphs. I write it down in a much more irregular way, a sentence here, a word there, bullets and lines connecting ideas. My brainstorming notes are more like PowerPoint slides. Between the two of us, our notes look different. So, how can it be that so many students write notes that look exactly the same? That's where my comment comes in.

Now if these students wrote paragraphs because that's what worked for them, fine. However, my suspicion is this isn't the case. Talking with them, hearing their comments during the class discussion Tuesday, and looking over their papers, I see a lot of people who are struggling to figure out their process, not those who have already. Enter public education.

I'm not saying that all teachers are corporate clones. Most of those I know from my classes or SCWP are anything but. I am saying there's a lot of pressure in the education system to create measurable products. Standardized tests are a big player here. The budget question ties directly to test scores, where there is a right/wrong answer.

One teacher I know has actually been given a hard time by her administration because she was asking students open-ended questions. "That's fine," they said, "but there needs to be a right answer."

To which the teacher replied, "But, then it's not an open-ended question."

Taking this back to paragraphs: Standardized tests and "scientific" approaches to writing boil down to this push for something that can be measured. They want to measure how proficient a student is at The Writing Process, and this means having steps that they can check off: Student did/did not do step 1, 2, 3. The only problem is that most writers I know don't write that way. Most do the steps out of order, or skip some. This doesn't fly with the tests, so students are taught to write in measurable ways, regardless of how that student might learn to write on their own.

Organic/authentic is not measurable. Standardized is. Thus, my problem with seeing so many paragraphs.


Whittaker Luckless said...

Ah. I see what you mean there, prof.

The One and Only John said...

See? Boxing in the creative mind does not focus it, but merely restricts and hinders it. FIGHT THE POWER!!!